What Post-Artists Make Happen
Barbara Rose’s, “Thanks for the Memory,” in the December issue of The Brooklyn Rail bemoans the “the devolution of the role of art criticism.” Yet, Rose’s definition of art criticism as the act of “defining the artists’ intentions, then judging if they are fulfilled, and ultimately judging the worth or importance, emotionally or aesthetically, of these intentions,” seems as relevant to me as Columbia Records must be to musicians in the age of Soundcloud. Her point of contention begins, “When Donald Judd announced in the ’60s that art no longer needed to be good but only to be ‘interesting.’” I would argue that art no longer even needs to be “interesting” as long as the discussion surrounding it is – for good and bad. Take for example, her insistence in the remainder of the article to discuss the “tawdry subject of the art market because the market gets prime space in newspapers, magazines, and the art press, along with news about forgeries and art thefts,” as yet another case in which the pot describes at length the ways in which the kettle is black.
If the critical art discussion in the 90s centered around installation-based/interdisciplinary/M/E/A/N/I/N/G and the 00s extended that discussion to include post-colonial/studio/relational/social practice, then what might characterized as happening now along this trajectory might unfortunately be called something like ‘post-artists.’ Yes, in what Rose describes as, “today’s multidisciplinary, multimedia, multicultural, and corporate global culture,” individual artistic mediums and dogmas have long since lost their singular appeal. [I am reminded here of the LCD Soundsystem song, “Losing My Edge,” except instead of guitars and turntables; I hear that you sold your paint and bought cameras. I hear that you sold your cameras and bought a computer. I hear you’re throwing your computer out the window because you want to make something real.] Therefore, the primary realization that we are facing in this 10s decade is that the ‘post-artist’ artist is not just an artist. That an artist, ‘alone’ in their studio, also happens to be an artist as bookkeeper, artist as website designer, and the all-to-often artist as applicant. This is not too mention the increasingly common cases where that artist is also an artist as curator, artist as activist, artist as ethonographer, artist as citizen, and even artist as brand – increasingly, being marketed as artist as entrepreneur.
2013 Carnegie International: Artist Announcement from Carnegie Museum of Art on Vimeo.
Just as this expanded notion of what it means to be an artist, in recognition of all the activities they are involved in beyond any ‘artworks’ that they make, art and artists continue to be even more commodifiable, perhaps in the most direct instance as the pawns in Richard Florida-style gentrification. My favorite current example of this conflation can be seen in the recent exhibition announcement for “Black Code: 30 Years of Shopping” an exhibition at Frac Haute-Normandie in France, which explicitly “sets out…to experience the increasingly close ties that are being developed today between stores and exhibition spaces, and between the fashion and art worlds.” An art exhibition about exhibitions that are like stores that are like exhibitions. How fashionable!
So artists feel stuck: under-recognized for all the activities they are actually doing and over-commodified as the great force behind “hipsterism” (as literally quoted from Wikipedia). Resistance seems futile. As Jacob Wren writes in “Resistance as Paradox,” a recent “unfinished” blog post: “Art is the corner in which transgression and questioning are allowed, at times even encouraged, and making art is like being told to go stand in that corner.” If this is case, then ones starts to feel the only ‘radical’ position is to stop positioning what they do as art. This might be in direct reaction against relational aesthetics (which instead tries to justify every kind of activity as art and has unfortunately instead led to artists-as-social workers/community activists), or might even have something to do with the increasingly number of otherwise famous people (James Franco, Tilda Swinton and George W. Bush just to name a few) who are attempting to positions themselves as artists (What would Warhol do?!). But, at least if as an artist one recognizes the many activities that one does that are important, relevant and valuable – even those that are not the direct act of making art – then calling oneself an artist either becomes increasingly beside the point, or entirely the point. Artists may or may not actually start to shun the title of ‘artist’ but there is no doubt that a discussion around how relevant the divisions between an artist’s various activities really are have already begun.
Take as an example, this excellent infographic recently posted by Christine Wong Yap, to consider not just what artists make, but What Artists Make Happen. The implications of this chart could be discussed at length, but consider now the idea put forth that “what artists make happen are opportunities for shared aesthetic, intellectual, emotional, and communicative engagement and action. The engagement is shared, as there is mutual investment of attention and space for cooperative action.” To bring this all back to the role of art criticism, Yap succinctly ends with a sort of postscript by saying:
This week, articles in the Village Voice and the NY Times bemoaned the vast influx of money in art. Art auctions, art fairs, and mega-galleries that show works collected by the 1% are part of the art world, but equating them with the art world (as the Voice writer did) or only reviewing those exhibitions and fairs (as some NYT writers tend) are mistakes.
As Csikszentmihalyi points out, our most valuable currency is not money, but psychic energy—in other words, our attentions.
There are multiple art worlds. In mine, art auctions, secondary markets, and multi-million dollar transactions are on the periphery. I focus my attention on the center, which is abundant with artists, especially those who make things happen.
As Yap points out again more recently, critics like Jerry Saltz with long-standing NY-centricism are just now realizing there are multiple artworlds. But, if like Yap, you instead hold this artist-“center”ed-way of thinking, the role of critic should be entirely focused on conveying “what artists make happen” (and to jab Rose again – I am not just talking here about “vivid descriptions”). If “what artists make happen” are opportunities for shared experiences, the most important point of discussion is not the artist’s intention but to convey those experiences and the entire (socio-political, historical, aesthetic, intellectual, emotional) context in which these shared experiences happen – which, by definition, changes over time. In this case, critical discussions surrounding art could not be any more relevant…if you believe that is where the ‘interesting’ part exists anyway.